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Is Medical Marijuana Effective for Anxiety?

Marijuana can ease many of the symptoms of anxiety—at least in the short term—but recommending medical marijuana for anxiety disorders is a complex matter. Certain cannabis formulations, especially in low doses, appear to help ease anxiety symptoms.

When consumed long-term or when high doses of THC are consumed, cannabis may bring on or worsen anxiety. Before self-medicating with marijuana for anxiety or stress relief, there are a few things you need to know.

#1: Cannabis Will Probably Make You Feel Good in the Short Term

There's a good reason a lot of people consume marijuana when they're feeling anxious: Depending on the strain, marijuana can promote physical and mental relaxation, produce feelings of euphoria, reduce anxious feelings, mute obsessive thoughts, increase sociability, relieve nausea, and help with sleep—effects that directly help with some of the most common symptoms of anxiety.

From a scientific perspective, the effects of cannabis on anxiety symptoms are due to the way the plant’s bioactive compounds interact with the body's endocannabinoid system, in particular those receptors that are located in the brain. In one animal study, a central deficiency in the endocannabinoid anandamide predicted stress-induced anxiety, and if this effect also applies to humans, it would make sense that supplementing with phytocannabinoids (cannabinoids from plants) could help to restore a healthier balance.

#2: Self-Medicating with Cannabis for Anxiety Has Pitfalls

While cannabis may provide short-term relief, taking marijuana for anxiety without medical supervision presents several risks:

  1. The consumer might try cannabis as a first-line solution for their symptoms when those symptoms are caused by an issue that can be dealt with in other ways. Many times, anxiety symptoms can be reduced with improved sleep hygiene, improved nutrition, cutting back on caffeine and alcohol, ensuring regular exercise, trying meditation, psychotherapy, counseling, or cognitive behavioral therapy, and putting healthy boundaries in place.

  2. The consumer might choose products and strains that make their anxiety worse. While low doses of THC and low-to-moderate doses of CBD appear to help with anxiety symptoms, large amounts of THC can cause anxiety and bring on panic attacks. Self-medicating with the wrong strain or consuming the wrong amount could make things worse rather than better.

  3. There is a correlation between mental health disorders and cannabis use disorder. If you consume cannabis for anxiety unsupervised, you may find yourself developing symptoms of cannabis use disorder, such as consuming larger and larger amounts of cannabis or performing high-risk activities like driving after consuming cannabis.

  4. Individuals who buy adult-use cannabis products to treat anxiety may miss out on certain tax savings and workplace protections. If you live in a state with a medical marijuana program, you may be missing out on potential benefits by consuming cannabis products on your own.

Take Arizona, for example. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an Arizona qualifying condition, and patients who see a doctor via an in-person or MMJ telemedicine appointment can be approved for a medical marijuana card that allows them to enjoy lower taxes on medical cannabis as well as other benefits, privileges, and protections.

#3: Certain Forms of Cannabis Appear to Be More Helpful Than Others for Anxiety Disorders

If you experience chronic anxiety (more days than not over a period of six months), you might be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders include conditions like social anxiety disorder (SAD), generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

Depending on the precise diagnosis, a physician may recommend certain forms of medical marijuana for anxiety.

  • Tinctures and vapes. The first product that medical marijuana doctors often recommend for chronic anxiety is CBD oil that's dropped under the tongue. If that's not enough, the patient might be advised to try a cannabis vape. Dosage for tinctures: In some trials, an effective dose of CBD for anxiety was 25mg to 30mg per day. As far as THC goes, doctors often advise anxiety-prone consumers not to take more than 5mg to 10mg of THC at a time.

  • Indicas and hybrids. Indica strains have more body-oriented effects, and as a result, are less likely to send you into a mental spin. Popular strains for anxiety include Girl Scout Cookies (indica-dominant hybrid), Granddaddy Purple (indica-dominant hybrid), OG Kush (slightly sativa-dominant hybrid), Blue Dream (sativa-dominant hybrid), Sour Diesel (sativa-dominant hybrid), and Jack Herer (sativa-dominant hybrid).

  • CBD-rich strains. Cannabidiol—the main non-intoxicating cannabinoid in marijuana and hemp—has anxiolytic properties and doesn’t impair judgment or coordination. If you want a minimally intoxicating strain for anxiety, try high-CBD/low-THC strains like Remedy, ACDC, and Charlotte’s Web.

  • Strains that are high in anxiety-reducing terpenes. Limonene, pinene, linalool, and myrcene are four excellent terpenes for anxiety symptoms. Limonene is uplifting, energizing, and calming. Pinene can help with clearheadedness and memory. Linalool is relaxing and can help with sleep. Myrcene can help with racing thoughts, relaxation, pain, and sleep.

#4: Medical Marijuana for Anxiety Can Be Used as a Standalone Remedy or Combined with Other Therapies

If a doctor does recommend medical marijuana for your condition, this alone may be enough or you may consume cannabis in conjunction with other treatments. At a minimum, everyone—including individuals with anxiety disorders—needs to pay attention to their sleep hygiene, exercise regularly, keep their consumption of caffeine and alcohol moderate, and eat a nutritious diet.

In addition to these basic essentials, anxiety sufferers may benefit from participating in psychotherapy alongside cannabis consumption or combining medical marijuana with lower doses of traditional prescription anxiolytic medications such as antidepressants, beta-blockers, and tranquilizers. An experienced MMJ doctor can help you craft a treatment regimen that’s tailored to your individual situation.

The Best Treatment for Anxiety Is Specific to You

With cannabis, as with other treatment modalities, there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to treating anxiety.

If you’re struggling, your first call should be to a trusted physician or mental health professional who can evaluate your symptoms and provide a diagnosis. Then, once you know what you’re dealing with, you can work together with your care provider to find the best pharmacological and non-pharmacological approaches to relieving your symptoms and improving your quality of life.

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